In the Disney classic “The Lion King,” the ever-wise meerkat Timon tells the troubled Simba: “You got to put your past behind you.” Timon has obviously never had to deal with credit reports.
If you have negative information in your credit history, you probably want to move on from it a lot faster than the credit bureaus will let you. Missed payments, bankruptcy, collections accounts — these things can linger on your credit reports for years, dragging down your credit scores even as you work to rebuild them.
While credit repair is often a process requiring great patience, there are some steps you can take to speed things up.
This is one of the many reasons you should regularly review your credit reports and scores. Most important, you want to make sure to dispute any inaccurate information as soon as possible, because there’s no sense in allowing your credit score to suffer because of an error. Once you have your hands on your credit report (which you can get for free each year from the major credit reporting agencies), it helps to know what you may be able to get removed. Gerri Detweiler, Credit.com’s director of consumer education, gave some examples of when removal may be an option.
A sizable chunk of medical bills end up in collections, much to the annoyance of American consumers. The good news is these can sometimes be removed by talking to the health care provider. You can ask them to take the account back from collections and pay the health care provider directly. You may want to negotiate a payment plan if you’re unable to pay the bill in full all at once. The doctor’s office may not agree to this, but it doesn’t hurt to ask when the alternative is having a collection account on your credit report for seven years.
It’s important to know that collection accounts do not disappear from your credit reports once they’re paid, but they should be removed seven years after you first started receiving collection notices.
With April 15 less than two months away, here’s a friendly reminder to get going on your taxes. If you owe the Internal Revenue Service money and can’t pay, you may have a tax lien filed on your credit report. You want to avoid this if at all possible, because these credit-score killers can stay on your credit report indefinitely if left unpaid.
Once paid, tax liens stay on your credit reports for seven years, but you can request in writing that it be removed when you’ve paid it. You can also look into the IRS Fresh Start initiative, through which you can set up an installment plan for paying the tax lien and have it removed from your credit history.
An unpaid judgment has a similar life span: It can stay on your reports indefinitely if unpaid, but paying a judgment could get it off in seven years, Detweiler said. Still, most credit bureaus remove an unpaid judgment after 10 to 15 years, she said.
A single late payment can tank your credit scores if you’re in otherwise good standing. If you’ve had a clean payment history until then, you might be able to get forgiveness for this mistake. Pay the bill and call the creditor, asking to remove the late payment from your credit history. If you’ve been a good customer, they may help you out (but you’ve only got one chance to play the “good customer’ card — don’t blow it).
If you’re an authorized user on a credit card where someone else’s late payments are hurting you, consider removing yourself as an authorized user, Detweiler said. After a few months, you could dispute the account’s presence on your credit reports because you’re no longer responsible for it, Detweiler said. Just make sure you know how losing that available credit will affect your credit utilization rate.
Keep in mind that while you may not be able to remove negative information, you should always work to get inaccurate info taken off your reports.
“If there’s anything about that account that doesn’t look right or accurate you have the right to dispute it,” Detweiler said. Each credit bureau has instructions on its website for how to dispute. And, at the very least, many negative items will go away eventually.
“Even if you can’t get them off, over time they typically have less impact,” Detweiler said. “Even if they’re on there, you can still rebuild your credit.”
More on Credit Reports and Credit Scores:
- The Credit.com Credit Score Learning Center
- What’s a Good Credit Score?
- How to Get Your Free Annual Credit Report
- How Do I Dispute an Error on My Credit Report?
- What’s a Bad Credit Score?
- How Credit Impacts Your Day-to-Day Life